Leadership Perspectives | 07.24.19
Exit Strategies with Frank Consalo: Part 1
This is part one in our Exit Strategies interview series with Frank Consalo, head of investment sales at Citi Personal Wealth Management. Read parts two and three in the following weeks.
I’m very lucky to have come to know a number of our industry’s senior executives through the interviews I conduct. For me, these conversations are typically very enjoyable and revealing. This conversation with Frank Consalo, however, touched me in an emotional way that few others have. I think you’ll be surprised by Frank’s remarkable life story. When you read about his family background and early jobs, you’ll understand how an incredible work ethic developed. I don’t know what Frank will do when he one day retires from our industry. However, I do know that he won’t retire in the traditional sense. He may become the future Congressman Consalo, or a stage actor or something else interesting. Whatever that may be, I’m absolutely certain it will be a successful endeavor.
On learning the value of hard work early on...
David Macchia: Frank, the first question I'd like to ask you is, where were you born?
Frank Consalo: I was born in Vineland, New Jersey in 1960.
Macchia: Big family, small family?
Consalo: Well, interesting family. There were six of us, five of whom, including me, were adopted by my mother and father. They had children very late in life, and we were spread out in age; my older sister was about 15 years older than I was.
Macchia: That's absolutely fascinating. Your adoptive parents sound like they were incredible people.
Consalo: Wonderful family, right? I grew up in a big farming community. I started working on the farm when I was about 6. I mean, really working. My mom dropped out of school in first grade. My dad was a truck driver. They had always wanted children, and they thought they'd stop at one, but the family just kind of grew. We were very close. My mom stayed home and raised the children. But, she also worked multiple side jobs and ultimately ended up owning two or three businesses. First she made drapes in the evening, which she sold. Then she got into the ravioli business. She was a great Italian cook. When I was young, I would stay up late with her and make homemade ravioli. We would start at about 6 p.m. and stay up until 3 in the morning. She would freeze them, and once a month we would get in the car on a Sunday night and drive around to the local restaurants to sell the ravioli. There were 50 in a bag. She would sell them for $4.50. She would sell a whole station wagon full. My mom was a real saleswoman–she was amazing. When she was about 65, she opened a retail store called Ruth's Fine Wine. She used to buy clothing and all types of odds and ends and resell them in her store. She did very well, and it led to a second store when she was about 70. She died at the age of 93, just two years ago. My mom exposed us to many businesses. After the ravioli business, she opened a kennel–we had 60 dogs in our backyard. I was responsible for taking care of the animals when I was growing up, in addition to working on the farm, where I did everything. I picked tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupe and peppers. You name it. Twelve or 14-hour days, seven days a week. I learned how to drive a tractor at the age of 8.
On the college experience and working...
Macchia: Where did you go to college?
I started out at Eastern Kentucky University before transferring to the University of Kentucky, where I graduated in December of '83.
What was it like transitioning from New Jersey to Kentucky?
We were blue collar, and I didn't know we were borderline poor. I thought it was normal. There wasn’t much money for me to go away to school beyond what I had saved, and I had to pay for my own college. I originally planned to go to Wagner, but ultimately I didn't have enough to pay the tuition, so I had to look at other options. My brother had gone to Eastern Kentucky, so I thought I’d go there for a year or two and then transfer somewhere else. I did, but I ended up staying in Kentucky. I loved it–the people were very friendly. It was just a fun place to live. I lived in Lexington, Kentucky, and it was cheaper to go to school there than it was to stay in state in New Jersey. I was in school for five years, and I worked full-time with two jobs. I was a waiter, and then I worked at a men's store. But there were still times that I didn't have money to buy food, so I became a houseboy for a sorority house, which was fantastic because I got to eat for free. It was fun, too.
I've always believed that people who spend time as a waiter or waitress or in the retail business acquire a lot of valuable people skills. Was that true for you?
Yes. It's hard work and late hours, and you're on your feet. But it provided cash on a daily basis that allowed me to live, and I learned how to sell. During the summer, when I went back to New Jersey in 1978, I was licensed to work at the first casino in the state. I was a waiter in one of the restaurants and then became a card dealer. I dealt craps and blackjack. After that job, I worked in a gas station–I would work two or three jobs at a time. I’d load trucks during the night and then go to work at the gas station during the day and at a bar afterward. I went on three or four hours of sleep, many times going from job to job. I had to figure out a way to earn enough money to pay my tuition. It was tough, but I didn't realize how tough, because everyone I knew was doing the same thing.
On learning the importance of saving money and getting into the investment business...
Macchia: What was your first job after college?
Consalo: I always knew that I was going to go into sales, but I just didn't know what kind of sales. After college, I wanted to get into the investments business because I wanted to help people plan for their financial future. It all stems back to a lesson my mom taught me when I was younger. I was in the eighth grade and came home one day to find a paper bag with three pairs of blue pants and two shirts. Later that evening, my mom told me that I owed her $180 for my clothes. A typical teenager, I told her I couldn’t believe that she was charging me for my clothes. Then she added that I had to pay room and board at $40 per week, which covered cooking, cleaning and laundry. So, starting in the eighth grade, I had to pay rent to my parents. Imagine a kid at that age paying room and board to live at home. But, you know, I got over it. Fast forward to right before I’m about to leave for college. My mom walked up to car with an envelope full of cash. What she had done over those years was save the $40 payments, only to give it all back to me when I went off to school. That was her way of forcing me to save, to help me later on. I was basically in tears during the entire 12-hour drive to school, feeling so bad about all of the times that I was angry at her for taking money from me. She taught me a valuable lesson about saving. My first job out of college was at Dean Witter, which was an unbelievable experience. Every day you sat in a Sears store and you'd open up two, three, maybe four accounts. I loved it and it helped me hone my cold-calling skills. I worked at Dean Witter for a few years and did really well, ultimately becoming an advisor. After Dean Witter, I went to Citibank.